The East Lansing Art Festival operates largely on an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. The festival’s core — the juried selection of diverse artists who line the streets of downtown East Lansing — is as healthy as ever.
This year’s event features 186 artists in mediums ranging from photography and painting to ceramics to sculpture. Included in that number are 67 artists who are joining the festival for the first time.
But from this core, the festival is casting nets beyond the visual arts to snag a larger share of the Greater Lansing arts community. While the festival has always embraced music, it has also started reaching out to the local literary arts scene.
“Last year was the first time we had a poetry reading,” said Michelle Carlson, East Lansing Art Festival coordinator. “People really liked it.”
The festival is expanding its poetry offerings this year, including poetry chalking on streets and sidewalks and an interactive haiku workshop led by Michelle Root-Bernstein, a former editor of the Haiku Society of America’s journal, “Frog Pond.”
New to the festival this year is a theater showcase, where members of MSU’s Summer Circle Theatre and Riverwalk Theatre will give audiences a preview of upcoming shows.
“We’re always looking for ways to include more arts,” Carlson said.
Last year, the festival rolled out a new artist demonstration area, where attendees get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of making art.
“The artists who participated last year really enjoyed it,” Carlson said. “Most artists work by themselves in a studio and don’t have a chance to share their process with the community.”
Artists participating in this year’s demonstrations include sculptor Manny Lopez, painter Bradon Badeau and glass artist Lino Pretto. The demonstrations give attendees a chance to see how the art for sale at the festival is created.
“When people see how much effort and time goes into the work, it helps them appreciate the art more,” Carlson said.
The festival is also working to improve its children’s area. Organizations like the Broad Art Museum, Impression 5 and Reach Studio Art Center will host art activities for kids throughout the weekend. The theme of all of the projects is wearable art, and twice-daily Move Your Art Parades will give children a chance to show off their creations.
“We’re working to make it a more authentic art experience,” Carlson said.
And then there’s the music. Last year, the festival added a Friday night kick-off concert with local cover band Triple Lindy. This year, Michigan-based soul/rock outfit Huckleberry Groove will kick off the festivities. Over 20 more bands and performers will take the stage Saturday and Sunday.
The diverse slate of performers includes Detroit’s Planet D Nonet, which will perform a set of music written by South African musicians during Apartheid. Other acts include energetic folk trio the Moxie Strings and Off the Ledge, which recently won the Q106 Hometown Throwdown. Former Verve Pipe drummer Donny Brown will perform a set of original songs with his band, the Van Dell-Tones.
“Some people come to the festival just for the music,” Carlson said.
This is the second year that main stage performers are able to take advantage of the new performance area at Ann Street Plaza. The main stage was quarantined to a parking lot behind the police station for several years while Ann Street Plaza was remodeled.
“We didn’t feel like part of the festival,” said Ben Hall, the festival’s music coordinator. “It’s nice to be back in the middle of things.”
A stage in the small park at the corner of Albert Avenue and Abbot Road has evolved from a glorified open mic to a legit second stage. Between the two stages, attendees will have the chance to take in everything from 1920s jazz to zydeco to indie rock.
“It’s always my goal to have the music reflect the diverse forms of art,” Hall said. “It’s the soundtrack to the festival.”
East Lansing Art Festival
May 21 and 22
Downtown East Lansing
(517) 319-6804, elartfest.com
Friday night kick-off concert
With Huckleberry Groove
7-9 p.m. Friday, May 20
Ann Street Plaza Corner of Albert and M.A.C. avenues, East Lansing